The arrival of COVID-19 has turned the world of PR and marketing upside down. Last year, a survey conducted by Gartner found that 61% of CMOs expected their marketing budgets to increase in 2020. When they were asked again in April of this year, 65% said they were preparing for moderate or significant cuts.
When it comes to PR, even the richest of the rich are looking to slim down. Google announced in April that it might cut its marketing budget in half.
Although it’s definitely not the time to abandon PR, it may very likely be a good time to pivot in favor of an agency that is flexible enough to accommodate your budget and your goals. In other words, this may be the time to ditch the major PR agencies and consider a smaller agency that offers greater versatility. Here are a few reasons why.
Remote work is not just a necessity –– it’s an opportunity
Until there is a permanent solution to COVID-19, such as a vaccine or an effective treatment, you can expect much of the white collar workforce to continue working remotely. At the very least, you’ll want a firm that understands how to work remotely and can do it well. You may find that in not all cases are the biggest, oldest PR firms the best-equipped to work this way.
Indeed, when you hire a legacy PR firm, part of the reason you’re paying so much is because they need to cover the cost of office space and a larger overhead cost burden. In contrast, many newer, nimbler firms have eschewed traditional office space in order to offer lower prices without sacrificing results.
If you’re willing to work remotely, both now and in the long-term, all of a sudden you’re able to pick from a much larger global talent pool. If you’re in an expensive market, such as New York or San Francisco, you have the chance to significantly reduce costs by going with an agency based in a lower-cost market like Austin, Denver or Phoenix.
In addition to considering PR agencies based elsewhere, you should look favorably upon firms that source talent from around the world. Oftentimes these firms will be better-positioned to conduct PR in different areas because they have contacts who are familiar with the particularities of local media markets.
Swyft, for instance, not only has in-house talent in different parts of the world, but it started an international PR network, First PR Alliance, to help clients find reliable PR partners to carry their message into new markets. The Alliance includes agencies across five continents.
Flexibility to ramp up and down
Many companies are understandably seeking to lower their costs after taking big hits to their bottom lines in the past few months. However, perhaps the greatest lesson we should learn from this crisis is that you should always be prepared for the next one. One of the best ways to be prepared is to try to adopt as flexible an organizational and cost position as possible.
Unfortunately, big PR firms aren’t very flexible. They typically demand long-term commitments and they are reluctant to rapidly change course –– in terms of billing or strategy –– in response to unexpected events.
Access to top talent
The problem with big firms often lies with their rigid hierarchy and bureaucracy. If you’re not one of their biggest clients, you’ll most likely be dealing with junior staff who are working from a strict template handed down to them by their superiors. They tend to have limited discretion to deviate from that template, even if they recognize that it may not be working for a particular client.
With a smaller agency, your strategy will be crafted by senior leaders, who often have significant experience and knowledge of the field. If you feel a need to change course, you’ll be able to discuss it directly with the head of the agency and you won’t be put on hold.
In good times and bad times
This is an unprecedented disaster that will break many businesses that did everything right. And yet, as is the case with every crisis, there are lessons to be learned.
Crises tend to highlight underlying problems that were tolerated or ignored when times were good. A 2018 survey of 400 C-Suite executives found that nearly all of them felt that their PR and marketing agencies were unable or unwilling to prove their ROI. That’s not a good situation to be in good times and it’s simply unsustainable in the midst of a crisis.
There’s a better way. Just like the economy, your business isn’t static. As it grows and confronts challenges, its needs evolve. Now is the time for a PR agency that is willing to evolve with it.